Ron Meisner and Billy Malone share similar approaches to making art. Yet the results couldn’t be more different.
While both create works that are solipsistic, each also draws inspiration from the distinct world that surrounds him.
Meisner grew up in Michigan. During the ’70s, he spent eight years in Asheville, earning a B.F.A. at UNCA. In 1978, he moved to Manhattan and lived there for 15 years — receiving his M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts along the way. Since 1986 he’s kept a studio in Brooklyn (Meisner now lives in the Carroll Gardens section of that borough). But he travels down our way frequently to visit his Asheville-based family and friends.
“I consider Asheville to be my second home,” says Meisner. “I feel comfortable when I’m here. Asheville has a very special feeling [that] only exists here.”
For his nine-to-five gig, Meisner works in the New York City cosmetics industry — which also leaves its mark on his artwork: “I create paintings that are like skin or masks,” the artist explains, adding, “The idea of facades interests me.” Accordingly, his paintings are created, for the most part, on the same scale as a human face. Their glittery, glamorous surfaces play off one another in an almost celluloid fashion. In his circle paintings, Meisner takes portions of discarded cosmetic pans and affixes them to the surfaces of the works; he then mixes face powder with different pigments and media and applies them as well.
At first sight, Meisner’s paintings appear to be meditations on modernist color-field painting. Like many other postmodernists, he has chosen this particular genre as a jumping-off point — a way of re-evaluating and reinterpreting 20th-century art history through his own sensibilities.
“Forms are filtered through the artist to make art,” Meisner muses. “That process is different for everyone. My art mirrors how I am thinking about things.” He borrows images and objects from the world around him and intuitively reprocesses them onto the surfaces of his paintings; the vivid results show the range of his insightful play, through the contrast of color and surface.
“I don’t edit the intuitive aspects of my work. Intuition always dictates what happens when I am making a painting,” he notes. “My work is always experimental. It reflects a spiritual aspect that I have. And that aspect is different for everyone.”
In addition to his paintings, Meisner has created a series of drawings on used coffee filters. Besides being bold indications of his creative processes, these decorative icons employ a variety of media and images.
“Drawing allows one to make masks,” he explains. “It’s more psychological and reveals the dream aspect of mental processes.”
Billy Malone is a native of Johnson City, Tennessee. He received his B.F.A. from East Tennessee State and moved to New York City a year-and-a-half ago, after a three-year stint in Chicago. Malone now lives in Manhattan and commutes daily to the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, where he’s employed as an art handler at an art installation and shipping company.
“I am compelled to make pictures,” Malone declares. “When I was in school, I made conceptual art, but as soon as I finished, I immediately went back to creating visual work. I wanted to do stuff that couldn’t be tied up in a semantical package. Now I’m torn between making figurative and abstract art. I don’t know if I have attention deficit disorder or what, but I just can’t seem to repeat the same sort of image over and over again. I just want to enjoy myself. Play is a big part of my work.”
Like Meisner, Malone is an intuitive artist. His working process is spontaneous — making his artwork inadvertently experimental. Malone uses many media and genres, which ultimately jell into complete images. His pictures shift between traditional portraiture and classic abstraction — swirling and sputtering in and out of chaos as they take one through the history of art on a roller-coaster ride of visual sound bites.
Malone also credits his Southern roots as a source of inspiration. “The mountains … are definitely an influence in my work,” he relates. “I miss them sorely. … There are abbreviated elements of landscape throughout my paintings.” To help ease his nostalgia for his native mountains, Malone visits New York’s Fort Tryon Park regularly (it sits just outside his back door).
This artist cites conflict as his paintings’ main subject matter. Malone’s work poses questions of abstraction vs. representation, the geometric vs. the biomorphic, color vs. line, the conceptual vs. the formal, and irony vs. sincerity. Indeed, his work is loaded with allusions to a variety of contrasts. Other art-related and real-time references exist side by side, creating a symbiotic dialogue between disparate elements.
Malone also shows in this exhibit a collection of drawings that are even more playful than his paintings. These works, through a riotous host of media, reference both collage and cartoon imagery.
“I usually have the TV on when I’m making my drawings,” he reveals. “I feed off it. It works as a kind of visual white noise for me.” At once frenetic and dreamlike, the energy of these works on paper does seem akin to the anxious-yet-catatonic force that often emanates from the tube.
It remains to be seen whether painting will continue to be a viable medium for artistic expression in the 21st century. At the moment, it appears to caught in a cycle of historical, tautological gamesmanship and sentimentality. For the time being, though, painting continues to be the dominant force in the art world — as the works of Ron Meisner and Billy Malone strongly testify. The art here is competent and stylish — and these artists take on contemporary idioms as a kind of modus operandi. It should be most interesting to see where all this intuition and experimentation takes them.